Outdoor Dining – Get your establishment ready for the reopen


Almost one year on from the announcement of the first lockdown and we are steadily heading towards our third reopening for the hospitality and leisure industries. The year has been long and difficult, but businesses are once again preparing to welcome both their regular customers along with attracting new frequenters. With outdoor dining being the first crucial step on the UK’s roadmap to normality, venues need to once again ensure their premises are ready to both adhere to the associated rules and accommodate diners comfortably.

So, what should establishments be looking to do to make their venues perfect for outdoor dining?

Maximise Your Space The first port of call is to ensure you map out exactly how much space you have and utilise all of it to your benefit. Prior to March 2020 outdoor spaces where an additional area mainly used for outdoor drinking and socialising, particularly during the summer months. Saturdays were a popular day for congregation in such areas for venues with outdoor televisions showcasing sporting events such as weekly matches of the Premier League.

But now, these areas have gone from a secondary income generator to the main platform for diners. It is expected later in the year that indoor dining will return but in the immediate future outdoor is the rule. As such areas which would normally be designed for comfort and relaxation with a group of friends need to now be retrofitted to house diners in a more subdued setting whilst maintaining social distancing.

We would suggest drawing up a rough floor plan (it does not need to be the work of a professional surveyor) as it means you can play around with ideas before committing to moving furniture. It also means you can clearly see what area is available, just be sure to make a note of power points as this can impact placement of equipment such as heaters.

When redesigning try to bring some of your internal theme into the outdoor area. Your regulars will have missed you just as much as you’ve missed them so make it familiar and comfortable for them. It may also help make dining in your outdoor area feel like they are back to a more normal time which will help them enjoy their meal more.

Building The Right Environment Developing on from the point of heaters whilst you’re looking at how to maximise your available outdoor spaces you need to keep in mind what the goal is for this area. You want people to eat in it. As such it needs to be suitable for people to sit out in, meaning you will have to consider one of Britain’s most notoriously unpredictable and unreliable aspects; the weather.

As such when designing or preparing your outdoor space customer welfare must be addressed. We will admit that erecting a metal framed shelter overhead may be expensive and a touch too permanent as you’ll want to no doubt make the most of good weather when it presents itself. So, where protection from rain is concerned installations such as awnings, canopies, or large waterproof umbrellas tend to be most popular.

Now onto the temperature, spring cold snaps and cool breezes are still a possibility up until May which can make sitting outdoors less than appealing. In order to prevent diners feeling the chill we would suggest buying a patio heater. A column heater can provide your customers with the heat they need whilst being a sleek visual addition opposed to an eyesore.

Another key consideration is lighting, as the days get longer the need for outdoor lighting may wain, however at present it would still be a necessity if you want your outdoor service to last a full night. There are many options available from retro style spotlights which add a vintage feel, to cute fairy lights for a warm subtle glow and there is also candlelight which can be added to each table for a romantic ambience.

Get The Right Gear Now that we addressed the elements, we can now turn our attention to your equipment and how this may require some amending to face the challenges of outdoor dining. The first idea worth discussing with your staff is polycarbonate glassware. As most outdoor spaces are located further away from the bar or kitchen it means staff are likely to be walking further with drinks. If you feel outdoor dining may pose a risk to additional breakages for your glass ranges, it may be worth investigating substituting your current offering for polycarbonate options.

Much in the same vain crockery and serving platters can also be at risk too. As such you may want to invest in melamine alternatives which are much sturdier and can be dropped multiple times without impacting their structural integrity. It may also be worth looking at increasing the number of trays and serving platters you have to further aid in transporting your meals over a larger area than servers are used to.

One small item which you may not initially think of is your tip trays. If plastic is the preferred method of paying then the following issue does not apply, but if cash is being used it generally doesn’t agree with the wind. To prevent any dashes for freedom from your customers cash consider buying tip trays which have a clip. It may be a small and simple change, but it can make the lives of your customers a lot easier and less stressful.

One final consideration is social distancing signage, whether you already have some or not you’ll need to ensure the relevant signage is in place for the safety of both staff and diners. You’ll want both hanging displays and floor visuals to remind customers of the current rules.

Spice Up Your Menu Much like we suggested in our takeaway containers blog earlier this year when it came to your delivery menu, reconsider what your offering is and make it more conducive with outdoor dining. Add more warming meals like soups and other hearty meals like pie and chips, casseroles, chillies and curries. These can help keep diners warm when the temperature drops.

Equally, ensure you have one eye on the future. As we head into summer make sure you also prepare to add some summer options onto your menu to capitalise on the better weather. Cocktails are great additions for summer along with salads, quiches, paella and quinoa-based dishes along with light seafood meals.

Also, be conscious this summer could offer up multiple mainstream sporting events such as the Euro’s and the Olympics. You’ll want to bare this in mind as you may want to convert your outdoor areas to sporting venues during the day to capitalise on sport pundits before getting ready for evening dining service.

At Alliance Online we are trying to help hospitality businesses make the best of the current restrictions whilst gearing themselves up for reopening. We have a wide range of catering equipment including cleaning, barware, crockery, glassware, cutlery, capital equipment and much more.

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